Author: Jimmy D
© Old Gold Free Press Columnists
It’s that time of year to take a tour of the 2009-10 non-conference schedules for each Big Ten women’s basketball team. I am strictly an AIA (Amateur Internet Armchair) fan, so feel free to correct/fill-in as you see fit. To get a real preview, check in with Stephanie White and the Big Ten Network Sunday evening, November 8th, at 6:00 p.m., for their preview of this year’s season.
I will list a team’s RPI from 2008-09, taken from Jerry Palm’s site, www.collegeRPI.com, in () after their name, look at a possible non-conference W/L record and give a subjective ranking for the team’s non-conference strength of schedule (SOS) relative to other teams in the Big 10, with 1 being the most difficult and 11 being the least challenging. When talking about 2009-10 incoming freshmen, I will use Blue Star rankings, www.bluestarbb.com, since they are used on this site, and, according to the Blue Star website, they have picked up ex-Purdue Assistant Coach Jody Benner as a consultant.
The first installment includes previews of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.
THE OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (13)
This year the Buckeyes start their season as the top seed in the WNIT. Potential later round foes include Marist (33), West Virginia (98), Florida Gulf Coast (63), Georgia Tech (35), Oklahoma St. (65) and New Mexico (81). You can see why Coach Foster may be pleased with his timing, since there appears to be no comparable competition to Ohio State, thus dovetailing nicely with their strategy of constructing "softer" non-conference schedules. If it were not for Duke (5), their opponent in the Big 10/ACC Challenge, a rebuilding California Golden Bear (29) squad would be the only marquee game on the Buckeyes' non-conference schedule. And as for Cal, as Charlie Crème with ESPN points out, with Devanei Hampton and Ashley Walker gone, the Bears will largely be relying on Alexis Gray-Lawson and a top five recruiting class. However, highly touted freshman Tierra Rogers was recently diagnosed with a rare heart condition that will more than likely end her college playing days before they begin. Games against Mississippi (90) and a probable match-up with Bowling Green (44) are the only other contests on their schedule against teams with an RPI better than 100. So one piece of the puzzle is already in place.
We will have to wait and see about the other two pieces –- Big 10 dominance and early exits from the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes have won five straight regular season titles in the Big 10 and two Big 10 tournament championships in the past four years. In addition, they have seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances with none lower than a No. 6 seed, but only two Sweet Sixteen appearances –- both losses.
Last year found Coach Foster tinkering with his starting line-up late in the season, benching the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year Shavelle Little and Senior Ashlee Trebilcock for Sophomores Alison Jackson and Brittany Johnson. To no avail as the Buckeyes lost to a talented Stanford Cardinal 84-66 in a Berkeley regional semifinal match.
With All-American candidates Big 10 Freshman of the Year PG Samantha Prahalis and post extraordinaire and two-time Big 10 Player of the Year Jantel Lavender returning along with a more than competent supporting cast, the Buckeyes may have enough to again capture the Big 10 regular season crown and repeat as Big 10 Tourney Champions. But to live up to this year’s pre-season ranking (3) and their potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes need someone else to step up big time. Perhaps they will utilize a four-guard offense with heralded freshman G Taylor Hill (13) from Minneapolis, Minn. Perhaps they will simply try to replace Star Allen with freshman Emilee Harmon (15), a 6’-2” F from Central High in Pickering Ohio. Or maybe Coach Foster will go big, allowing 6’-5” Senior Andrea Walker to finally emerge and step out of the Davenport/Lavender post shadow. No doubt, Coach Foster has options. The question remains, Will any of them be successful enough when March rolls around?
Non-Conference W/L prediction: 12-1, with the pre-season WNIT crown; the lone loss to Duke. Big 10 non-conference SOS – 7.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (51)
The Spartans have a very respectable, non-conference schedule. Heading up their slate of opponents is North Carolina (11) as part of the Big 10 / ACC Challenge, Notre Dame (15) and Xavier (24). It would be no surprise if any of these three teams ended up in the Top 10 this year. Xavier has been tabbed 7th in Athlon’s pre-season Top 25 poll, with Amber Harris back from October 2008 cartilage surgery. She will be joined on the court by junior center Ta’Shia Phillips, the 2008-09 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and member of the 2009 Wade Trophy Watch List. In addition, there is the possibility that a third former Purdue recruit, Dee Dee Jernigan, could step into a starting role for the Musketeers this season.
Coach Suzy Merchant has also penciled in a number of teams that achieved surprisingly good RPIs from last year: George Washington (77), Dayton (78), Florida Gulf Coast (63), St. Bonaventure (67) and either Marist (33) or Andrea Riley and the Oklahoma St. Cowgirls (65) in the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas. I don’t think this Spartan team is going to be satisfied with their NCAA Tournament victory over ex-Spartan Coach Joanne McCauley’s No. 1 seeded Duke Blue Devils. Rather, the tone for 2009-10 will probably be set by the Sweet Sixteen game against Iowa State, a game the Spartans know they should have won, but instead lost by a single point at the end.
The 2009-10 Spartan roster looks amazingly similar to their 2008-09 team, with Aisha Jefferson and Lauren Aitch returning as 5th year seniors, senior C Allyssa DeHaan, PG Brittany Thomas, hopefully back from her late season ACL injury last year, Courtney Schiffauer, Lykendra Johnson and Kalisha Keane all returning. In fact, when I went to the Michigan State web site and looked at this year’s official team photograph, while not listed on the 2009-10 roster in October, there is #21, Mia Johnson, Michigan St.’s lone major contributor lost to graduation last year, sitting front and center holding the basketball. Not shown in the picture are the Spartans three freshmen, including 6’-4” C Kelsey Smith (54). Given the depth and experience of this year’s team, all three are obviously going to have to work extra hard to get themselves in the picture and on the court.
Non-Conference W/L prediction: 7-3, with losses to Notre Dame and Xavier, but an upset win against North Carolina. They may lose one other game, as someone catches them on an off shooting night. Big 10 non-conference SOS – 1.
WISCONSIN BADGERS (58)
The Badgers may have the most literary non-conference schedule in the Big 10. For some reason, I’m reminded of the title of Shakespeare’s comedy, "Much Ado About Nothing". Beyond games against in-state foes Wisconsin Green Bay (42) and Marquette (59), two teams that they defeated last year, there is even less to not get excited about, not even the Big 10/ACC Challenge game against NC State (108) generates much buzz. Tied for 8th in the ACC standings last year, the Wolfpack continue to struggle in their attempts to regroup in the post-Coach Yow era. It may be that Wisconsin’s non-conference schedule lacks the degree of difficulty needed for the Badgers to build on come Big 10 time. Alas, March may again find the Badgers in the bottom half of the Big 10.
Yes, Jolene Anderson and Janice Banks are gone. But 2008-09 saw the emergence of Alyssa Karel, a fearless 5’-7” guard, as she led the Badgers in scoring with 12.8 ppg. When her game is on, Karel has an almost endless variety of ways to score: fast breaks, pull-up jumpers, 3-pointers, driving the baseline, one is amazed at what this 5’-7” player can do. But she can’t do it all. Returning with her, are guards Teah Gant and Roe Lin D’Alie and forwards 6’-4” Lin Zastrow and 6’-1” Tara Steinbauer. This is still a small line-up with not a lot of depth off the bench. And with Taylor Wurtz, a 6’-0” guard from Ripon High School, rated 94 by Blue Star, as the only incoming freshman, there is no major change in this situation on the horizon. So Head Coach Lisa Stone and Coach Bennett will just have to find a way to get more production out of this group than they got last year, as the Badgers finished 6-12 in the Big 10.
If Wisconsin’s non-conference W/L record ends up being 8-1 or 9-0, then why am I yawning? Because their Big 10 non-conference SOS – 11, sits at the bottom of the pile.
Next up: Northwestern, Minnesota and Purdue.